Monday, October 24, 2005


Cornell President Sounds Call to Action

"Now, with the well-organized, resolute intelligent design movement, the issue is back again. What adds urgency to this iteration of the dispute is the fact that this country is so polarized, both culturally and politically. When we divide ourselves into “Red States” and “Blue States”; into the people who watch Fox News and those who watch PBS; into “people of faith” and “secular humanists,” when ciphers substitute for nuanced ideas, is it any wonder that this debate now concerns matters as fundamental as what we teach in our primary and secondary schools, what academic standards universities require, and what rhetoric candidates adopt in political races? When ideological division replaces informed exchange, dogma is the result and education suffers," says Hunter R. Rawlings III, Interim President of Cornell University in an Oct. 21 "State of the University Address."

Rawlings statement -- coming on the heels of a "Letter to the University of Idaho Faculty, Staff and Students" from University President Timothy White affirming scientific principles that are testable and anchored in evidence -- is an important new development in the battle against creationism and intelligent design.

Rawlings speech gives a nuanced account of the various battles being waged across the country against science education by creationists and intelligent design advocates. Perhaps more important, he commits university resources to a battle that he quite correctly notes is "above all a cultural issue, not a scientific one. The controversy is about the tensions between science and belief, reason and faith, public policy and private religiosity."

Perhaps, even more important, Rawlings envisions bringing the "disparate parts of the modern research university back together" to defend science education and the separation of church and state.
We have at Cornell philosophers expert at making fine distinctions and careful definitions. We have scholars of literature who have made the close reading of texts their life’s work. We have historians and scholars of American Studies who can identify and explicate the antecedents of the current controversy. We have economists, sociologists, political scientists and others adept at exploring linkages among science, religion and public policy and their relationship to broad societal themes like privilege, poverty, and inequality.

This is a broad and bold vision. Red State Rabble urges all supporters of science education to read Rawlings speech carefully. The war we are now involved in has, in various forms, raged across the centuries. There will be no knockout blows. No unconditional surrenders, nor ultimate victories. Each generation will have to step forward in its time.

However, it is possible to prevail in the battle to defend science education in public schools. President Rawlings has laid out what we believe is a winning strategy -- and, he's committed resources to it.

Until recently, university presidents have stood mostly on the sidelines in this important public policy debate. That is beginning to change now -- for the better.


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